Judge Studying Jurors' Behavior In Erlandson Case

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Date: 1992-02-28
Source: Seattle Times

Friday, February 28, 1992 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Judge Studying Jurors' Behavior In Erlandson Case
By Jolayne Houtz

EVERETT - Snohomish County prosecutors are downplaying claims that jurors in a high-profile murder case may have acted improperly, but a Seattle defense attorney said it's clear his client did not get a fair trial.

"If these allegations are correct, it would taint the whole trial . . . and also contaminate the whole jury," said David Allen, who represented Noreen Erlandson of Bothell. She was convicted Feb. 17 of second-degree murder in the beating death of her adopted daughter.

Allen already has decided to ask for a new trial, though Judge Joseph Thibodeau hasn't completed his investigation into the allegations.

But Jim Townsend, chief criminal deputy, said interviews with 11 of the 12 jurors Wednesday apparently didn't turn up any significant impropriety. "There doesn't appear to be anything that would require a new trial," he said.

This isn't the first time Allen has alleged jury misconduct. Former high-school-basketball star Tyrone Briggs had his King County convictions on robbery and sexual assault overturned in 1989 based on arguments by Allen and co-counsel Richard Hansen.

They told the state Court of Appeals that Briggs didn't get a fair trial because a juror didn't disclose that he had a speech problem, a key point in the trial. The court agreed, clearing the way for a new trial, which ended with a mistrial, and the prosecutor's office dropped the charges against Briggs.

In the Erlandson case, a juror's phone call to Allen two days after the verdict tipped him off to the alleged misconduct, Allen said, although he said he suspected something was wrong when jurors refused to talk to him or prosecutors after the trial concluded.

"That raised a lot of suspicion in my mind," he said.

The juror told Allen about several possible actions by fellow jurors that might be considered misconduct. One juror tried to get evidence on his own. Another reportedly brought outside information into the jury room. Another allegedly had a personal experience with the disciplining or physical abuse of a child and didn't disclose that during jury selection.

Prosecutors received a similar call from a juror, and they asked Thibodeau to look into it. "We were concerned that Allen was talking to all the jurors, and we just wanted it done in court, on the record," Deputy Prosecutor David Hiltner said.

That led to individual interviews this week with all jurors except the foreman, whom court officials are trying to reach in Alaska. Thibodeau said he hopes to finish his investigation early next week.

Allen said Erlandson has mixed feelings about the disclosure. "She's obviously much more hopeful, but she's also very upset that she didn't get an impartial jury."

There's also a financial concern: The Erlandsons already owe about $100,000 in legal bills, according to court records.

Prosecutors estimate that it cost them more than $20,000 just for the three-week trial, with half of that paying for expert witnesses. Townsend said the trial wiped out his office's annual $4,000 expert-witness account, and he has been forced to find money elsewhere for other trials.

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